Private practice requires an additional level of registration. To engage in the private practice of social work in Nova Scotia, Registered Social Workers must apply to the Board of Examiners. 

The registration process demonstrates that you have advanced skills in one or more specialized areas of social work, and are able to apply them independently of an organization.

Before you apply

You must apply for private practice registration to be a self-employed social worker, including if an agency employs you as an independent contractor.

Defining self-employment

Section 2(j) of the Social Workers Act defines “private practice” as “the provision of social work services by a person who is self-employed as determined by the Board.” The Board of Examiners defines self-employment as the provision of the social work services set out at section 5A of the Act in which the social worker:

  • is solely responsible for the liability of their practice; and
  • bills a client or client affiliated organization for the provision of those services.

Many agencies will recruit social workers as contractors rather than hire them as employees. It is important to understand the distinction and be sure of your status.

  • If an agency hires you as a contractor and you aren’t considered an employee of the organization, you aren’t covered for liability by their insurance, and you are billing for services, then private practice registration is required before you begin work.
  • If you’re an employee of an agency and they provide supervision and liability insurance coverage, and are paying you a salary or hourly wage rather than a fee for service, then private practice registration is not required.

If you aren’t sure whether the work you’re considering would be self-employment, please contact the Registrar to discuss your circumstances.

Explore your options

The “Is private practice for me?” section of the Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW) Private Practice Portal is a great resource for any RSW exploring the potential of private practice. It explores the pros and cons of this path, describes typical days in the life of a private practitioner, and helps you self-evaluate whether private practice is a good fit for you.

For the perspective of a private practitioner here in Nova Scotia, please read this article in Connection magazine by Heidi Sturgeon, RSW: “Lessons learned: My journey into private practice.”


  1. Applicant must be a member in good standing and not currently the subject of an outstanding disciplinary order.
  2. Successfully completed a master’s or doctoral degree in social work from an accredited School of Social Work as listed with the Canadian Association of Schools of Social Work. International applicants must have their degrees assessed by the CASW.
  3. Applicants need to demonstrate they have a minimum of five years or equivalent hours of professional social work experience including:
    • two years (or equivalent hours) of professional social work experience, following completion of a masters or doctoral degree in social work and within the previous ten years, which is relevant to the area or areas of specialization in which the applicant proposes to conduct a private practice.
    • four years (or equivalent hours) of professional social work experience within the past ten years which is relevant to the area or areas of specialization in which the applicant proposes to conduct a private practice and which may have been obtained, in whole or in part, prior to completing a masters or doctoral degree in social work.
  4. The experience referred to in the above subsection must have been supervised by, or conducted in consultation with, another professional with appropriate expertise in the proposed specialization.
  5. In all cases, social work experience refers to a position in which the primary professional designation is social work, or for which a social work qualification was required or preferred.


To apply for private practice status, review these steps, assemble your necessary documents and then complete an online application:

  1. Visit your member profile
  2. Select Member Class from the menu options. 
  3. Select the checkbox option to change your member class.
  4. Select Private Practitioner as your requested member class.
  5. Fill out the online form and upload the following documents:
  6. Pay the $50.00 application fee.

After completing the online application, mail the following original documents to the College:

  1. Criminal Record Check completed within last six months (contact local police or visit:
  2. Child Abuse Registry Check.
  3. If the College does not already have your MSW or PhD transcript on file: An original transcript sent directly from your university registrar’s office to the College.

Applicants must also obtain two references attesting to the applicant’s competency in their proposed area(s) of specialization. Each of these references must come from a qualified Registered Social Worker in good standing with the College (or with the equivalent social work regulatory body in their jurisdiction if outside Nova Scotia) who can speak to the applicant’s ability to competently practice in the requested area(s) of specialization. Each referee should submit a completed Private Practice Referral form directly to the College by mail. 

Mailing address: 1888 Brunswick St., Suite 700, Halifax, NS B3J 3J8

The Board of Examiners may require an interview for clarification where other information is inadequate or inconclusive in assisting the Board to determine the suitability of the member to be approved for private practice.

Board of Examiners meetings are held eleven times a year. These are usually once a month on the third week, except for a month off in the summer. (There will be no August meeting in 2023.)


Registered social workers who are licensed to engage in private practice may conduct the private practice of social work only in their approved area(s) of specialization.

Applicants are expected to demonstrate sufficient professional social work experience relevant to each area of specialization in which the applicant proposes to conduct a private practice. Detailed information about these considerations is in the Application and Renewal Policy Manual. In short:

  • For general practice specializations, the Board of Examiners will consider experience obtained within the past ten years, before or after the completion of an MSW or doctoral degree.
  • For clinical practice specializations, experience obtained before the completion of a postgraduate degree will not generally meet the requirements. Clinical social work practice is considered advanced practice, and experience integrating the knowledge and skills that were gained through completion of the postgraduate degree is required.
  • For trauma-related specializations, applicants must demonstrate that they meet additional standards set by the Board of Examiners (see Policy #BOE36 for full details).

To request approval for new areas of specialization, existing private practitioners must apply to the Board of Examiners in writing with an updated resume and supporting documents, which may include new Specialty Checklist and Specialty Areas forms (see Policy #BOE38 for full details).


RSWs applying to the Board of Examiners to become private practitioners must pay a $50 fee at the time of application. 

Licensed private practitioners also pay an annual fee to continue engaging in private practice; this is in addition to the regular registration renewal fees for active members of NSCSW.


The Board of Examiners receives administrative support from the College’s Regulatory and Applications Administrator, Ogochukwu Okechukwu. If you have questions about your private practice application, you can reach Ogo by phone or email:

Telephone: (902) 429-7799 x 221